Coaching Series: Executing on Your First Half Marathon

There are many reasons to decide to run a half marathon. You may have decided to lose weight. It may be the natural progression in your running career. Maybe someone dared you to do it or you’ve temporarily lost your sanity. Or maybe you just want to prove to yourself that you can do something that seems impossible.

Whatever the reason may be, training for your first half marathon is daunting. It’s scary, and it seems inconceivable at first.

I often get asked for specifics on how to tackle training for a first long distance run. So I want to get down to business on how to be successful in reaching something that seems unattainable. Though I have run a couple of marathons, I still remember vividly what it was like when I decided to train for my first half. It wasn’t pretty, and it seemed absolutely impossible!

Here are some tips that allowed me to be successful then, and still play a major role in attaining goals today.

Road to Taormina, Italy, Oct 2016

Road to Taormina, Italy, Oct 2016

1.  Make the commitment.

This means assessing your current fitness level and deciding in what month you could reasonably and healthily work your way up to the mileage. Once you have done this on your own or with the help of a professional, sign up for a race in that month. No matter how far out it is or how far away you may have to travel, sign up. And hopefully it costs a lot of money.

The more skin you have in this game, the more likely you are to be successful.

Always wanted to visit Miami in January? Sign up. Always wanted to see Austin in February? Sign up. How about Philadelphia or San Antonio in November? Sign up!

Making a commitment is more than talking about something or trying to do something. Making a commitment is taking it to the next level and deciding something will happen. Many times, this is the biggest hurdle to jump to ensure you actually attain your goal.

2.  Start a routine.

Routines take thinking out of the game. Routines allow you to accomplish certain tasks without requiring too much brain power, once you've committed them to memory. The advantage is two fold: you are more likely to accomplish what you turn into a habit or routine, and it also frees up brain power to tackle other things in life. Not to mention, some of the smartest and most successful people adhere to routines so they can have the time and ability to run the United States of America or Facebook so why shouldn’t you have one to include healthy nutrition and training sessions? 

In my personal experience, you can attain the fitness you need to complete a half marathon with 3-4 days of running per week which includes one long run on the weekend. A routine might look like a Monday, Wednesday and Friday am session where you wake up 1 hour earlier on those mornings to get your run in before work. Plan to eventually run 2-3 miles per day during the week and then increase your long runs by one mile each weekend until you get to 10 miles.

  • Veteran Note:
    • It’s ok to start with one mile per day and slowly increase to two or three miles during the week-don’t be afraid to mix it up too! For example: 1mi (Mon), 2mi (Tues), 1mi(Fri) and 3mi(Sun). 
    • The long run is scheduled for Sunday and increases each weekend by one mile- so say you start at a 3 mile long run on your first weekend, the next weekend you will go 4 and so on until you reach 10 miles a couple of weeks before the race-also add in some tapers where you drop down in the mileage- there are tons of great plans online you can look into! 
    • Consistency is key when keeping with a routine!

Remember to put together something that works for you that you know you can commit to getting in the groove. What works for one person may not work for you, but if you need some ideas or suggestions, let me know and I can let you know what works best for me!

3.  Break it up.

As you start to get closer to your race, you may want to increase some of your mid-week runs. Perhaps Wednesday becomes your longer routine mid-week run of 6 miles and you’ve gotten your Sunday run up to 10 miles. 

  • Veteran Note: 
    • Everyone always says you don’t need to train with a run longer than 10 miles for your first half marathon, and I agree with this. No need to overtrain, and adrenaline on the day of will get you through to the finish line.

As you start to increase your mileage to numbers you haven’t hit before, it starts to get scary. Where do you find the time? Can you really last that long? How do you build confidence that you actually can do it? Break it up!

Since 6 miles midweek or 10 miles may seem daunting, I suggest breaking it into two runs in the same day. This can make those days seem a lot more manageable and is a great confidence booster in the long run! It won’t be long before you are taking these runs in stride and knocking them out in one session!

Also, breaking it up allows you to get some time back in the morning if you just if you just can't manage before work to get 6 miles in. This allows for some flexibility as you learn time management as a new long-distance runner.

So start your routine, get three miles in the morning and commit to the other three after work. That means no happy hour later, but it will all be worth it! Your goal is in site.

4.  Find a running partner.

If you know someone who would be willing to train for the same race with you, I would highly recommend it. Agree upon a schedule or similar one and help wake each other up or check in to brag (or complain) about how the run went. There is nothing like knowing someone else is getting up and logging the miles as motivation.

Applications or websites such as Strava and MapMyRun are also great tools to get connected to people you know or join a community of strangers. You can also look up running routes wherever you are that suit the distance you need to get in that day if you are traveling or just want a new way to run from your home. Also, if you are a Suunto watch owner, they have Movescount where you can log your miles and watch your fitness progression throughout this process.

Don’t be afraid to reach out on Facebook and ask if anyone in your extended network would be your accountability partner. It doesn’t matter if they are across the country and running in different climates. If anything, this can be motivation! If you live down south and know someone up north is running in the snow for you, then you have no excuse! Get out of bed and run!


*Healthspiration*:  Making a commitment is taking it to the next level and deciding something will happen.

*Opportunity Discovery*: Discover what commitment feels like. Set an alarm earlier than you ever expected. Turn down happy hours. Test your will and commitment to reaching something that is important to you. There is so much to be said for the gains made by sweat and tears. At the end of the day, you won't remember what was easy in life, you will remember what pushed you to make you stronger physically and mentally. The half marathon will be a part of this journey for you!


I hope this has helped break things down into manageable bites. I often think of the lessons I learned from training for my first half marathon (which was Miami in 2007). I will never forget what the first taste of commitment felt like: it didn’t matter what time I had to get up to get the run in, I did. The heat and humidity was always there to slap me in the face no matter how early it was! (Thanks, Tampa!) I would even make myself get up at 4am if I had to and that was discipline I didn’t know I had!

There is nothing more satisfying than proving to yourself that you do something. There is also something so special about joining the group of wonderful people who look to long distance running and races as part of their lives. They are generally kind, enthusiastic and motivating people who will help you reach your next goal. Long distance runners have fortitude, discipline and experience to share and pass on to the next eager beaver!

Contact me if you would like to hire me to be your health coach as you train for your first half marathon. I would love to help you outline your plan and reach your goals: that’s what I wake up for each morning!